CHICAGO - With the Pistons more or less throwing in the regular-season towel, the Celtics got one step closer to clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Celtics defeated the Bulls, 106-92, at the United Center last night as their All-Star trio combined for 59 points. Ray Allen scored a team-high 22, Kevin Garnett had 20, and Paul Pierce added 17.
The Celtics' magic number to clinch the top seed - a combination of Boston wins and Detroit losses - is now three. The Pistons are seemingly conceding, as they rested Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, and Rasheed Wallace for last night's 94-90 victory over lowly Minnesota.
"If that's what they decide to do, that's what they decide to do," said Garnett about the Pistons perhaps resting their All-Stars the rest of the way. "Doc [Rivers] hasn't communicated anything to us that we are going to do something like that. We are forming this thing here around something special to get some consistencies going into the playoffs.
"We can't worry about what other teams are doing or copy them. Doc hasn't said anything to the leaders of this team or the vets of this team. We're going to keep on keeping on and trying to win as many games as we can."
The decision to rest Billups, Hamilton, and Wallace came from Pistons general manager Joe Dumars and coach Flip Saunders. Detroit (53-21) has eight regular-season games remaining. Rivers has said that his starters' minutes might taper off during the final eight games, but he doesn't plan on sitting them.
Asked about Detroit's move, Rivers said, "I don't coach the Pistons. That's it. I don't coach the Pistons. They do what they want to do. We are going to do what we want to do.
"I'm not going to get into all that stuff. We like what we are doing. We like the rhythm of our team. We are going to keep doing what we're doing."
The Celtics swept the four-game season series against Chicago for the first time since 1986-87. With a win tonight against Indiana at TD Banknorth Garden, they not only will reach 60 wins for the first time since 1985-86, they will have the third-best record in franchise history through 75 contests.
The Celtics nailed 14 of 25 3-point attempts (56 percent), with Allen hitting five, Pierce four, and James Posey (11 points, 7 rebounds) three. "It was great," said Rivers. "It bailed us out. We made timely threes, too."
Said Allen, "The 3-point line can be very tricky at times because you have so many open looks. I know I'm capable of making them. Paul knows he's capable of making them. But I think there is a stigma attached that when you shoot too many threes you're settling."
Boston was ahead, 50-43, at halftime, but the Bulls opened the third quarter with an 11-6 run to trim their deficit to 56-54 after a Luol Deng lay-in. The Celtics responded with a 9-1 run to vault ahead, 65-55, following a Rajon Rondo jumper. Joakim Noah made two free throws with 1.6 seconds left in the third to slice Chicago's deficit to 79-73.
"This is a nice win," Rivers said. "I don't think we played great. We were sloppy with the ball; 19 turnovers is what we had. Overall, I think our effort was good. Chicago played hard. That's what they do."
A 3-pointer by Sam Cassell gave Boston an 86-75 lead with 8:44 remaining, and Posey nailed a 3-pointer to make it 98-87 with 3:46 left. Allen's 3-pointer with 2:49 remaining sealed it by pushing Chicago behind, 101-87.
The Bulls were limited to 41.7 percent shooting from the field and allowed 23 points off 16 turnovers. Chicago forward Tyrus Thomas scored a season-high 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Said Chicago coach Jim Boylan: "Boston shot the ball extremely well, but that is what they do. They move the ball and find the open man."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org